Translated by Vahe H. Apelian
Edited by Jack Chelebian, M.D.
This translated segment is from the book titled “Mattheos Eblighatian – A Life in the Life of my Nation – Eyewitness and Participant Testimonials 1903-1923. His sons Melkon, M.D. and Krikor, Attorney at Law, edited the book, Antelias, Lebanon 1987.
Kirkagac (forty trees), located close to Izmir, was a small town whose residents, be they Armenian, Greek and Turks, were well-to-do thanks to the cultivation of common madder whose pulverized root yielded a pigment called Alizarin, which had been used since ancient times as a red dye for leather, wool, cotton, and silk. Once the chemistry of Alizarin was discovered, enabling its synthesis industrially and much cheaper than extracting it naturally; the economy of kirkagac suffered greatly. From those boom times, there remained two storied, marble-floored houses, the Mother of God church, the Naregian School for boys and the Vartouhian School for girls.
Mattheos Eblighatian was born on October 21, 1881, during the economic depression of kirkagac. He was the firstborn son of shoemaker Melkon Eblighatian and his wife Takouhi Missirlian. Thanks to his innate quest for learning and his maternal uncle Hovhannes Missirlian’s moral and financial support, the young Mattheos studied in the local Naregian School for boys and later in national schools in the province of Izmir. Subsequently, at the cost of great hardship, he managed to complete his secondary and higher education in Istanbul attaining his Doctor in Jurisprudence degree at a time of great political uncertainty and danger.
In his notes, Mattheos Eblighatian asserts that the Hamidian tyranny, without putting official obstacles, nonetheless resorted to every means to prohibit Armenians from pursuing studying of law. In the summer of 1898, in spite of such restrictions, he managed to reach Istanbul but “failed” in his law school entrance examination. During his oral examination, the professor had asked, “Are you an Armenian?” Upon hearing his affirmative answer, the examiner had told him outright “get out” marking a zero next to his name.
Distraught, Mattheos Eblighatian returned to Izmir and followed the course at Sultaniyah Turkish school, repeating his four years of secondary education and becoming fluent in Turkish.
In 1903 he tried again and in spite of travel restrictions, succeeded in reaching Istanbul and registering in the school of law. The oral examinations were canceled simply because the number of the applicants exceeded five hundred. During the written examination Mattheos Eblighatian correctly noted his registration number but next to the initial letter of his name M, he put down a made-up name to cover his real identity. In those days the Turks did not have the practice of using the family name. Taking advantage of this loophole, many Armenian students had managed to slip through the “forbidden zone”.
In reality, Mattheos Eblighatian had ranked the fourth among the five hundred and five students and finally, in his own words, had set foot in the “promised land” and after six years of study, he attained his precious law degree.
In spite of the persecutions by the bloody Hamidian regime, Mattheos Eblighatian entered the rank and file of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and remained its faithful and active member until his death, assuming important responsibilities.
Thanks to his memoir published in this book, it will be possible to follow the turn of events in his life from 1909 until the beginning of 1923, first as a judge, then as the translator for Major Hoff, the Norwegian inspector of the reformation promised for the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire; then as the executive director of Armenian National Relief in Istanbul and finally the First Republic of Armenia’s Relief and Reconstruction Ministry’s representative in Istanbul, as of July 3, 1920.
To complete this period of his life, we note the following. When the Ottoman Government sided with Germany during the First World War, Mattheos Eblighatian was in Istanbul and was tasked with the nominal role of assistant to Robert Graves who was the director of the inspectors of the Armenian reform package devised by the European powers. When that office was abolished in March 1915, the Turkish Government’s planned anti-Armenian annihilation policies had already begun to be implemented. To avoid capture, Mattheos Eblighatian for months hid first in Istanbul and then in Ayden (Izmir Province) where the Armenians were as yet exempt from the deportation orders. Finally in November 1916, thanks to the intervention of a Turkish friend, he enlisted in the Turkish army under an assumed name, in his own words “to save his own skin”. He served first as a conscript and then as an officer in charge of provisions for the coastal defense regiment situated on the Big Island, Boyukada, in the Sea of Marmara.
During that period he married his compatriot, Miss Marinos (Marie) Chilingirian on October 30, 1917. They were blessed with two sons: Melkon-Norayr and Krikor-Bared.
His last office was short lived because on November 29, 1920, the Republic of Armenia became part of the Soviet Union. In spite of this, with the permission of the Allied Powers occupying Istanbul, Mattheos Eblighatian, for the next two years, ran the duties of Armenia’s Istanbul Consulate as the Director of Diaspora Affairs but practically with the authority of a general consul. A strange situation had come about because the consulate issued Armenian passports to Turkish Armenians in the name of the First Republic of Armenia that had ceased to exist. It is important however to note that all governments accepted these passports, as a result, a large number of endangered Armenians who lived under the constant dread of renewed Turkish persecution were able to find refuge abroad. As months went by, their number grew. Garo Kevorkian, who was an eyewitness to this large Armenian exodus, noted the following.
“Whoever was in Istanbul in those days surely must remember those bitter and horrible days. The successes of the Kemalist Army, the fall of Izmir, the risk of the inevitable capture of Istanbul had given way to an indescribable plight…there had come about an exodus that was growing by the day involving people of all socio-economic classes.
One could not count the crowd of Armenians lining up in front of the Republic of Armenia’s Istanbul consulate. They would wait in line for hours and days to get passports to go abroad. The Republic’s diplomatic representative Ferdinand Tahtajian, and especially Mattheos Eblighatian acting as consul, toiled for months to facilitate the exodus of thousands of applicants, who were not citizens of Armenia, by granting them Armenian passports, which were recognized by all other governments”. (Amenoun Darekirk (Everyone’s Yearbook), 1961, page 601).
But, by the order of the British authorities, the Republic of Armenia’s consulate in Istanbul was closed in December 1922, ending all its activities.
Right after the closure of the embassy, and along with many others, the Turkish police started looking for Mattheos Eblighatian. Fortunately, one day in plain daylight, on a busy street, sensing danger, he evaded capture by the police by quickly hurling himself into a passing streetcar. Finally, as a fugitive, he found refuge on an Italian ship that was on its way to Bulgaria. Coincidentally on the same ship happened to be Patriarch Zaven who was leaving Istanbul for good (December 10, 1922).
Mattheos Eblighatian eventually reached Romania’s Ploesht city where a few months earlier, he had sent his family, his mother and two brothers (Mikael and Bedros).
Romania became the first stop of his life as a refugee.
He was planning to immediately depart to Syria and settle in Sanjak of Alexandretta, having learned that Arabic and Turkish were equally used in an official capacity there. This way, there would be an opportunity for him to practice law or be appointed as a judge.
Circumstance, however, forced him to relocate to Greece instead. He stayed in Athens for the next six years instead of traveling to Syria primarily because of financial constraints. Those were years of financial insecurity and deprivation during which he accepted any job that came his way. For a while, he worked in a factory that made stockings and did minor clerical work in Greek lawyers’ offices. Like most inhabitants of Izmir, he knew Greek. Mrs. Eblighatian, in turn, sold her beloved violin. She also gave sewing and dressmaking lessons and helped alleviate the financial situation of the family. They lived in a small house next to the Armenian refugee camp.
In Athens, Mattheos Eblighatian assumed an active role in the life of both his nation and his party. He contributed to Nor Or (New Day) daily. He regularly penned analytical articles there.
Finally, in 1932, he managed to depart to Aleppo where he became the principal of Haigazian coed school, teaching at the same time history and ethics to the higher grades.
In 1935 he settled in Antioch where he practiced law for some time. Later he was appointed to the court of justice. He remained in that capacity until the Sanjak of Alexandretta was ceded to Turkey. During the fall of 1939, he reached the city of Latakia through Kessab. After remaining jobless for a year, by the order of the Syrian Government in 1940, he was appointed to the court of justice in Latakia, simultaneously assumed the role of district attorney for Kessab and of the nearby Qastal Maaf, a Turkmen region. Once every two weeks, he would depart to Kessab or Qastal Maaf.
In the final analysis, these positions are all secondary for someone who at the age of thirty-three was the president of Van’s court of justice. We have mentioned them simply to be comprehensive in the chronology of his life.
Nonetheless, his last court appointment may be considered symbolic.
During the Second World War, the people lived in a financially dire situation. Grain, flour, bread, sugar, coffee, soap, gasoline, fabric, and all such necessities had all gradually disappeared from the market only to appear on the black market prohibitively expensive. In spite of the government’s severe measures, the unscrupulous merchants plundered the people with impunity. In every city of Syria, the government appointed a sole judge to oversee the distribution of provisions to the people. Some of these appointees, in turn, considerably enriched themselves. The Government, entrusting his impartiality and fairness, appointed Mattheos Eblighatian as the sole judge overseeing the distribution of vital provisions in greater Latakia. He ran the office with remarkable initiative and competence until in 1947 when he was called to retire, earning the unanimous respect of the natives.
Mattheos Eblighatian passed his remaining years in Latakia. Every spring, much like the early sparrows, he came to Kessab to the house he had there where he would stay for seven months. He had a boundless affection for that native Armenian hamlet that reminded him of his birthplace kirkagac.
He passed away on September 30, 1960, at the age of 79. His remains are interred in the Armenian national cemetery of Latakia.
Melkon and Krikor Eblighatian.